2002 Mazda MX-5 Miata

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2001 Mazda MX-5 Miata

This 2001 review is representative of model years 1999 to 2005.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 8
Pros:
  • More horsepower and tighter handling this model year
  • Cute looks
  • Now, 6-speed manual offered on more than a special edition
Cons:
  • Considerable engine and road noise
  • No side airbags offered
  • Cozy interior

Mazda's Miata made it into the Guinness Book of World Records, being the world's best-selling roadster. For the 2001 model year, this cute little performer gets more horsepower than ever before, bigger tires and improved handling for an even sportier ride.

Cute, fun to be with and affordable. Sounds like a guy's dream date, doesn't it?

Actually, it's the 2001 Mazda MX-5 Miata.

Now in its 11th year, the Miata—the world's best-selling roadster with more than 560,000 sold around the globe—also continues to improve.

For the 2001 model year, this 2-seater gets its largest horsepower boost in history—up 15 from 140 horsepower to 155.

More roadster competitors now
It's not as if the little, 2,300-plus-pound Miata was sluggish to begin with. I've always enjoyed the way this small car readily scoots and scampers. But the new, added power comes as the Miata faces more competition in the small roadster segment.

This model year, Toyota introduced its 138-horsepower MR2 Spyder, while Honda's S2000, with 240-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, is entering its second model year.

New power is palpable
The new power in the Miata is noticeable during all-out highway runs in mountainous terrain as well as in drives in suburbia. There's a sense of more power at the reserve and, if you work the manual shift adeptly, also a sense of more eagerness in this new Miata than in past cars.

Mazda officials note that while the Miata's 4-cylinder engine remains at 1.8 liters, it now has a double overhead cam cylinder head with variable valve timing on the intake cam.

Just as in other variable valve timing engines offered by Toyota and Honda, the performance range is improved so there's more power and torque available across a wider rev range.

Peak torque in the new Miata is 125 lb-ft at 5500 rpm vs. 119 lb-ft last year.

Yet, fuel economy continues to be noteworthy in this sports car. The Miata is rated at 23 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway with either the 5- or 6-speed manual transmission.

Noisy ride, though
Engine noise is considerable, as you'd expect in this convertible. Mazda said it worked to tune the engine sounds this year to better match the expectations of Miata drivers.

There's some road noise, too, from the tires, especially the 16-inchers that were on the test Miata LS with suspension package. Last year, the biggest tires offered by Mazda were 15-inchers.

Starting price increased slightly
The starting price is up for 2001. The base Miata starts at just over $21,600, including destination charge, in the 2001 model year. This compares with just under $21,000 for a 2000 model.

Still, this is a deal compared with the newer competitors.

The Toyota MR2 Spyder starts at more than $24,000. The 2001 Honda S2000 starts at more than $32,500. Both are for MSRP plus destination charge.

For the first time, a 6-speed manual transmission is available on a regular production Miata—though it's only on the top Miata LS, and it's an option. Previous 6-speeds were only offered on limited edition Miatas.

The test car had the 6-speed and quickly claimed a top spot in my book for being one of the most satisfying shifters around. Not only does this shifter have a short throw, there's an easily understandable progression in the gears that fits and feels just right as a driver gains speed.

Tighter handling feel
The Miata's handling is upgraded this year, too. Brake discs are larger for better braking. This already-stiff and low-riding sports car is made stiffer with new reinforcements under the cockpit and stronger side sills.

Add in the optional LS suspension package that includes a sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein shock absorbers, limited-slip differential, a strut tower brace and those 16-inch tires, you can start to appreciate the truly sporty feel—dare I say zoom zoom?—that the test car conveyed.

I didn't hesitate to dodge around a piece of debris in my lane. The rear-wheel-drive Miata whipped around it and resumed its place in the lane in a flash and with composure.

In a slalom, back-to-back test drives of last year's Miata and this year's LS model with suspension package showed how much tauter and confidence-inspiring this 2001 model is. The car darts where you point it, as always, but remains more settled now while doing so.

Dressed-up instrument panel
Inside, all 2001 Miatas get new gauges with white, rather than dark, backgrounds and decorative chrome surround rings.

Sportier high-back seats provide more lumbar and shoulder support, which I appreciate. I also like the new, covered cupholders.

The dead pedal for the driver's left foot is improved, and inside door handles are chrome now for a richer look.

But Mazda does not offer side airbags.

A key-operated airbag turnoff switch for the passenger-side frontal airbag remains. The switch is easily reachable on the dashboard, at the base of the center console.

Outside, there are subtle changes, but I doubt casual observers will take much notice of the new Miata grille work and taillights. The styling change most likely to draw attention is the larger, reflector headlights.

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BB05 - 9/2/2014 12:00:03 AM